Victor Burgin’s ‘Photopath’ Unlocked Multi-Dimensionality in Photography 50 Years Ago. Now, the Work Is Resurfacing in New York

“A path along the floor, of proportions 1×21 units, photographed. Photographs printed to actual size of objects and prints attached to floor so that images are perfectly congruent with their objects.”

So read a set of simple, if ambiguous, instructions that Victor Burgin wrote on a single index card in 1967. When followed, the prompt yields a line of photographs that are exactingly printed to mimic the floor on which they’re installed—so much so, in fact, that it’s easy to miss them altogether. 

This was Photopath (1967-69), an era-defining work of mid-century photo-conceptualism that still mystifies today, even if—or, indeed, because—it leaves its viewers with more questions than answers. Photopath is the subject of both a new book and a show. The latter, a dedicated exhibition at Cristin Tierney Gallery that opens today, marks the first time in more than 50 years that the influential artwork will be installed in New York.

Victor Burgin, typed instruction for Photopath, 1967. Courtesy of the artist and Cristin Tierney Gallery, New York.

Burgin, now 81, wasn’t a photographer when he created Photopath 51 years ago. He didn’t own, or even really know how to use, a camera. What the technology represented to him was a means to an end—or, more accurately, the “solution to a problem,” he said in a recent interview.

The British-born artist was getting his graduate degree at Yale in the late ‘60s and was hyper-conscious, as many young artists are, of his place in the iterative evolution of artistic ideas and movements—that process where a generation of makers responds to the one that preceded it, and in doing so, establishes a new set of issues for the successive generation to take up. 

“We felt, back then, that our generation had to find the problem. Once you found the problem, then you knew what your artistic problem was; it was solving that,” Burgin said. 

On the artist’s mind were the slightly older mid-century minimalists—Donald Judd, Carl Andre, and his then-teacher at Yale, Robert Morris—whose formally rigorous work often resisted close examination and instead gestured outward, to the spaces in which it was installed. But Burgin was after something more elusive, something even non-material. 

“It struck me then that maybe I found the problem,” he said, recalling it in the form of a question: “What could I do in a gallery that would not add anything significant to the space yet would direct the viewer’s attention to [their] being there?” It was into this context that Photopath was born.

Victor Burgin, Photopath (1967-69), installation view, Nottingham, 1967. Courtesy of the artist and Cristin Tierney Gallery, New York.

The artwork was one of several index cards that Burgin wrote after he had returned to the U.K. Creating instructions for hypothetical artworks satisfied his desire “to do away with the object” in his work, but the cards, too, felt unfulfilled; he needed to enact the prompts to complete them.

So he did. Photopath was first realized on the scarred wooden floor of a friend’s apartment in Nottingham in 1967, then again at the Institute of Contemporary Arts, London in 1969 and at the Guggenheim in 1971. 

Though the piece was conceived as a kind of sculpture—or an anti-sculpture, perhaps—its impact, in retrospect, feels emphatically photographic. Like few artworks before it, Photopath exploited the medium’s uncanny ability to nestle in between image and object, illusion and idea. If the artwork doesn’t compel its viewers to consider these ideas intellectually, it at least makes one feel them through interaction. Do you treat it like a sculpture or a picture? Or is it not an artwork at all and instead just another stretch of floor? Do you step on Photopath’s prints or walk around them? 

“It is hard to imagine an act of photography more straightforward and uncompromising than Photopath,” writer and curator David Campany explained in his recent book on the artwork and its legacy, published last October by MACK.

“It aims to fulfill the basic potential of the medium, which is to copy and to put itself forward as a stand-in or substitute. Yet,” Campany went on, “in meeting this expectation so literally, it somehow estranges itself.”

Victor Burgin with Francette Pacteau photographing the brick floor at Kettle’s Yard, Cambridge, 1984. © Andrew Nairne / Kettle’s Yard, University of Cambridge. Courtesy of Victor Burgin and Cristin Tierney Gallery, New York.

To date, Photopath has only been installed a handful of times, the most recent instance of which came in 2012 at the Art Institute of Chicago’s “Light Years: Conceptual Art and the Photograph, 1964-1977” exhibition, when it was laid upon the polished wood boards of the museum’s Renzo Piano-designed atrium. After the run of the show, Burgin’s prints were discarded, leaving a dark, ghostly silhouette on the sun-soaked floor. He had, in a sense, created another type of photograph.

“I thought, ‘That’s just perfect.’ It really returns [the artwork] to the origin of photography,” Burgin said, noting that the show felt like a fitting conclusion for the artwork. He thought that would be the final time Photopath would be shown.

But that changed last year when Campany approached the artist with the idea of writing his short book about the artwork—a piece of writing that blends analytic art theory and personal experience, often to lyrical effect. What Campany identified in Burgin’s artwork was a kind of foresight for how photographic technology is used today. 

David Campany, Victor Burgin’s Photopath, 2022. Courtesy of MACK.

“[J]ust as Vermeer had pursued an important technical development in the picturing of three-dimensional space, so too had Burgin anticipated aspects of representation that are just as pervasive: the replication of surfaces, and the uncertain space between images and their mental impressions. Fake leaves on plastic plants. Laminated tabletops imitating stone or wood. Synthetic clothing pretending to be denim or leather.”

“Photographic ‘skins’ are everywhere in contemporary life,” Campany concluded. “They are not pictures, at least not in the conventional sense, but are a fact of our contemporary material, visual, and virtual experience.”

Victor Burgin: Photopath” is on view now through March 4, 2023 at Cristin Tierney Gallery in New York. Victor Burgin’s Photopath by David Campany is available now through MACK.

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Rare, Remarkable Chinese Porcelains From a Prominent Collecting Couple Go Up for Auction in New York

Bonhams New York is offering a host of delicate treasures in its “Cohen & Cohen: 50 Years of Chinese Export Porcelain live auction on January 24.

On view January 18–23, the 155 lots feature an array of mostly 18th-century Chinese porcelains, including famille rose vase garnitures, rare ‘European subject dishes and figures, and large Kangxi-period famille verte and blue and white dishes, a popular style for porcelain cabinets of the time.

Vying for highest sale price is a figure of a European lady from the Qianlong period, ca. 1740, estimated to fetch between $80,000–$100,000. The famille rose standing lady appears to have been modeled after a print by Dutch artist Casper Luyken, ca. 1703. The pattern illustrates figures in 17th-century Jewish costume, allegedly worn by women in Frankfurt’s Jewish community.

“One lovely aspect of the European lady figure is that the Chinese potter,” Michael C. Hughes, Vice President & Head of Department for Chinese Ceramics and Works of Art at Bonhams, told Midnight Publishing Group News, “is after having copied the sculptural form and style of dress from the original Western print, he did not know the decoration to be found on the lady’s clothing. So he had simply added an entirely Chinese decoration, as you see in the cloud scrolls on the apron and the dragon roundels to the blue cape.”

A garniture of five famille rose ‘parrot-on-a-swing’ vases, Qianlong period, ca. 1740. Courtesy of Bonhams New York.

Among the highest estimates is a pair of large famille rose ‘torch bearer’ candle sconces for the European market, ca. 1740, estimated at $80,000–$120,000. The brightly colored, ornamental pieces have an enameled center with a standing figure holding a flaming torch overhead and an unlit torch lowered at the right side. It’s all within a cheerfully hued frame displaying latticework, scrolling leaf forms, and other baroque motifs, as well as open-winged parrots for extra splash, all enameled and featuring gilt highlights. 

Pair of famille rose ‘torch-bearer’ rococo candle sconces for the European market,
early Qianlong period, ca. 1740. Courtesy of Bonhams New York.

Bonhams has enjoyed a long relationship with Michael and Ewa Cohen. The Cohens count clients all over the world, from the Hong Kong Maritime Museum in Hong Kong to the British Museum in London and the Metropolitan Museum in New York, among many others, noted Hughes. “Michael and Ewa’s philosophy was to buy as collectors rather than dealers—only buying pieces that excited them,” he said. “They had standards to what they collected and sought out exceptional quality, rarity, and historic interest…We’re honored to be a part of their story.”

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The Man Who Allegedly Stabbed Two MoMA Staffers Has Been Extradited to New York and Charged With Assault

Authorities in Philadelphia have extradited Gary Cabana, the suspect in last year’s stabbing attack at Museum of Modern Art, back to New York, where he faces assault and attempted murder charges.

Cabana, age 60, is believed to be responsible for stabbing two MoMA employees after being denied entry to a movie screening at the museum, where he was formerly a member. Cabana is said to have snapped when he was informed that his membership had been revoked following earlier alleged incidents of disorderly behavior.

The incident took place on March 12, 2022. An ambulance transported both victims, a man and a woman, both aged 24, to Bellevue Hospital, where they were treated for injuries—one in the neck, the other in the left collar bone. The suspect fled the scene.

Philadelphia police arrested Cabana sleeping on a bench at a Greyhound bus terminal three days later, after he allegedly set fire to his room at the Philadelphia Best Western Plus.

Paramedics respond to a stabbing at New York's Museum of Modern Art. A 60-year-old former member of the museum was refused entry and stabbed two employees before fleeing the scene. Photo by C.S. Muncy.

Paramedics respond to a stabbing at New York’s Museum of Modern Art. A 60-year-old former member of the museum was refused entry and stabbed two employees before fleeing the scene. Photo by C.S. Muncy.

Since his arrest, Cabana has been in custody in Philadelphia, where he underwent psychiatric evaluation. Now back in Manhattan, he was scheduled to be arraigned in criminal court today, reports AMNY.

A former Broadway usher, Cabana lived in an affordable-housing building called the Times Square on West 43rd Street. According to friends, he struggled financially but spent what he could on museum memberships and tickets to movies and plays, sharing recommendations on his blog, the Reel Reviewer, and a Patreon.

MoMA stabbing suspect Gary Cabana, who was arrested in Philadelphia. Photo courtesy of the NYPD.

MoMA stabbing suspect Gary Cabana, who was arrested in Philadelphia. Photo courtesy of the NYPD.

“When the pandemic hit, it ruined his livelihood and his creative outlets. He had nowhere to go,” a friend of Cabana’s told Curbed. “That’s when he started to get really antagonistic and upset about the tourists that wouldn’t wear masks. He wasn’t saying, ‘Oh, I’m scared to get infected.’ He was saying, ‘You’re keeping me from having a job and having my creative outlet because you’re not following the rules.’”

Prior to his arrest, Cabana posted on Instagram alluding to having bipolar disorder.

“I was completely blindsided by the ‘letter’ from security without any meeting or consultation to explain my mental health situation and how important GREAT MOVIES are to my life,” he wrote. “When they said I couldn’t go upstairs to see STARRY STARYY NIGHT EVER AGAIN I lost it.”

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Future Fair Debuts in New York With an Experimental Profit-Sharing Model—and Dealers Say It Has Delivered

As suggested by its name, Future Fair was conceived as a newfangled kind of expo, one modeled more like a co-op: profits are shared, finances are transparent, and what’s good for the individual is good for the collective. 

It’s a nice idea, but in a landscape dominated by mega-fairs that operate more like big-box supermarkets, the long-term sustainability of that model remains an open question. And it’s one that’s hanging over the Starrett-Lehigh Building in New York this week, as Future Fair, founded by Rachel Mijares Fick and Rebeca Laliberte, finally stages its inaugural in-person edition. (The fair was originally scheduled to debut last year, but the pandemic pushed the event online.)

So, will this experiment actually work? 

Ojo Ayotunde, <i>Alright</i> (2021). Courtesy of Nyama Fine Art.

Ojo Ayotunde, Alright (2021). Courtesy of Nyama Fine Art.

Among the 34 exhibiting galleries—25 percent of which are owned by people of color and 50 percent of which are owned by women—initial impressions are optimistic, even if actual sales have been slow-going so far. (After a VIP day, the fair opened to the public today.)

“So far, it’s been wonderful,” said Russell Tyler, a painter-turned-gallerist who opened the space Sunny NY earlier this year. “People are discovering the works of the artists. That’s the main goal, to find people who are interested in the work, even if they don’t purchase something now.”

As far as events like this go, Future Fair is on the smaller side, which may earn it tick marks in both the pro and con columns. The humble size of the fair offers a welcome respite from the overcrowded Armorys and Friezes of the world, but it also limits its offerings. Turn the corner after what seems like just a couple of booths and you may be surprised to suddenly find yourself at the exit door—no more art. 

“I love that it’s small,” said New York dealer Asya Geisberg, noting that the city has long needed a more modestly scaled prestige fair. “You get so much more as a viewer.” 

Angelina Gualdoni, <i>The Physic Garden</i> (2021). Courtesy of Asya Geisberg Gallery.

Angelina Gualdoni, The Physic Garden (2021). Courtesy of Asya Geisberg Gallery.

Still, “quality over quantity” has been the fair’s mantra since it launched, and there’s a lot to like here. Ojo Ayotunde’s contemplative, Noah Davis-esque self-portraits at Nyama Fine Art (Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts) come to mind, as do Amie Cunat’s graphic botanical paintings at Dinner Gallery (New York). A joint presentation of trippy paintings from Jacopo Pagin and sardonic ceramics by Cary Leibowitz at New Discretions (New York) packs one of the expo’s better one-two punches. 

Funnily enough, the fair’s profit-sharing model doesn’t seem to have been a huge draw for dealers. “I barely even paid attention to that,” said John Pollard, founder of Richmond, Virginia, gallery ADA. Owning a small gallery in a small market, Pollard sales aren’t the aim of the fair; it’s more about meeting potential collectors. 

“To me, sales are a consideration, but they’re not the only consideration,” echoed Pollard’s booth-mate, Asya Geisberg. “To me it’s more about what this fair is doing, building up an audience and an idea.”

Geisberg said that the sense of community and collaboration was the big appeal for her. “Like with everything in life, you put in more you get more.”

Brian Belott, <i>Untitled</i>, 2020. Courtesy of the artist and Mother Gallery, Beacon, NY.

Brian Belott, Untitled, 2020. Courtesy of the artist and Mother Gallery, Beacon, NY.

“I don’t know if there will be any profit this year, but it’s a nice gesture,” Paolo Oxoa, founder of the Beacon, New York-based Mother Gallery. (Oxoa is also opening up a new space in Tribeca later this month.) “And because we’re invested in that way, they also share with us a lot of what they’re thinking and planning, their numbers—information that most fairs keep to themselves.”

For Oxoa, who was among the first dealers to sign on to the fair before the health crisis, that sense of personal touch has been a big reason why she’s stuck with the fair.

“[The founders] said they were going to do these things, and through the pandemic, which has been such a challenging time, they’ve stuck to those promises. That means a lot to me,” said Oxoa. “I’m proud to be here.”

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Betty Blayton Taught Art to Hundreds of New York City Kids—Including Basquiat. Now, Her Own Work Is Getting the Blue-Chip Treatment

“This book is dedicated to all the children who have and will attend the Children’s Art Carnival—with the hope that they will become creative, productive, and balanced adults.”

So wrote the late artist and pioneering arts educator Betty Blayton in the dedication of her 1978 handbook on how to introduce children to the arts, a task she understood well after nearly a decade of running the Children’s Art Carnival in Harlem. (A young Jean-Michel Basquiat was one student.)

Blayton came to New York City in the early ’60s and, not long after, moved to a loft on Bond Street in the Lower East Side, reasoning that she needed to be close to where Andy Warhol hung out if she “was going to be the first famous Black artist in America,” as she said in a 2003 interview.

“I had to be where it was happening,” she continued. “But I ended up spending the next 35 years working in Harlem.”

Blayton came to the city looking to be part of something. And then the community she joined ended up looking a lot different than she’d imagined. Nearly a half century later, many of the visual artists in her circle are getting the mainstream attention they never had back then—people like Norman Lewis and Richard Mayhew.

Now, New York’s Mnuchin Gallery is presenting a survey of Blayton’s work, including more than 50 mostly abstract paintings dating from the 1960s to 2015, the year before her death.

The show reflects the holistic, mind-body-and-soul approach she also applied to her work as an education and institution builder—including as the co-founder of the Studio Museum in Harlem.

Installation view, "Betty Blayton: In Search of Grace." Artwork © The Estate of Betty Blayton. Courtesy of Mnuchin Gallery, New York. Photography by Tom Powel Imaging.

Installation view, “Betty Blayton: In Search of Grace.” Artwork © The Estate of Betty Blayton. Courtesy of Mnuchin Gallery, New York. Photography by Tom Powel Imaging.

“Comments about her should be about her impact on the world, along with her work,” said the artist Richard Mayhew. “Because her paintings reflect who she is.”

After meeting Blayton in the early ’60s, fellow artist Norma Anderson watched the progression of her work—from her early dabbling in sculpture with their mutual friend Arnold Prince to her later paintings on large, round tondo canvases, many of which are included in the show.

In trying to explain her work to Anderson, Blayton would describe how some pieces were influenced by various spiritual and meditative concepts she’d been exploring. Anderson “never really understood” what Blayton meant, she said, but “it didn’t matter what the ideas were, the paintings really came across beautifully.”

Walking through the show at Mnuchin, any attempt to tie Blayton’s artistic development to a linear timeline quickly falls by the wayside. Probably for that reason, curator Sukanya Rajaratnam grouped the works by style, not date, with earlier pieces positioned as possible influences to more recent ones, proving that some stylistic similarities actually reappear almost 30 or 40 years later. There are suggestions of figuration that ebb and flow throughout, with the mainly circular canvases finding cohesion through Blayton’s expert use of color, structural design, and textural layering.

Betty Blayton, Consciousness Traveling (2012). © The Estate of Betty Blayton. Courtesy of Mnuchin Gallery, New York. Photography by Timothy Doyon.

Betty Blayton, Consciousness Traveling (2012). © The Estate of Betty Blayton. Courtesy of Mnuchin Gallery, New York. Photography by Timothy Doyon.

For a long time, Blayton’s art practice was overshadowed by her renown as an educator. When stepping into that role, especially as a woman, people couldn’t see much else.

Blayton’s first big show, at the Elizabeth Dee Gallery in Harlem, only came a year after her death.

Rajaratnam previously organized exhibitions for David Hammons, Sam Gilliam, Alma Thomas, and Mary Lovelace O’Neal at Mnuchin, and got the idea for the Blayton show after “looking at artists who hadn’t made the cut” into the landmark museum exhibition “Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power.”

“Betty’s name came up,” Rajaratnam said. “There were quite a few women who were left out of that narrative and were integral to the conversation around this period.”

As much as is the case now, a point of commonality among these artists was
how they operated from a position of disadvantage. For many, including Blayton, they chose to start work as art educators mainly out of necessity.

They were “keeping on and doing what you need to do to be in an environment in which the support systems are so scarce,” said Susan Stedman, an artist and arts administrator who knew Blayton, “with a dearth of professional opportunities among galleries and curators and institutions.”

To make ends meet, Blayton worked as a recreation counselor at the New York City department of welfare, along with Anderson. Their friendship gave them a “feeling like ‘I’m a group of people that knows what it’s all about,” Anderson said.

Artists in the group would offer support for each other’s practices and give advice on where to find work. Using one tip, Blayton got a job at HARYOU-ACT, a government-supported entity providing art education to kids. Anderson and Norman Lewis also worked there, reinforcing the “sense of interconnection that [these artists] shared, socially, and artistically,” Stedman said.

The events of the late ’60s—John F. Kennedy’s assassination, the riots after Martin Luther King’s murder, the Vietnam war—triggered, for many, including Blayton, a reevaluation of  artistic priorities. In the Black community, it crystallized around activism against institutional racism.

Poster designed by Mahler Ryder. Courtesy of Norma J. Anderson.

In as early as 1967, Blayton organized “Points/Counterpoints,” a show featuring artists—Black and otherwise—who were “all kind of not in [the mainstream] and were just doing work that was exciting and fun,” said Anderson.

A spinoff of the show, “30 Contemporary Black Artists”—which traveled to numerous mainstream institutions, like the Minneapolis Institute of Art and the High Museum of Art—reestablished its organizational premise around Black artists (including the likes of Faith Ringgold and Norman Lewis). But “Counterpoints” was originally conceived to provide exposure for artists who were underrepresented by mainstream institutions. A lot of those artists also just so happened to be Black.

This is one of many examples of how dominant art institutions have mistranslated messages coming out of the Black arts movement. Yes, social action among this group of artists was always closely tied to race. It was hard not to be when confronted by the degree of institutional and societal racism at the time.

After the Whitney Museum didn’t hire a Black curator to organize the 1971 show “Contemporary Black Artists in America,” Blayton and Richard Mayhew, along with 15 other Black artists, withdrew from the exhibition, participating instead in a show organized in response to it called “Rebuttal to the Whitney Museum Exhibition.” Both Blayton and Mayhew contributed abstract pieces, which a New York Times reviewer claimed disqualified them as Black artists “except by race.”

Betty Blayton, Roots (1969). © The Estate of Betty Blayton. Courtesy of Mnuchin Gallery, New York. Photography by Timothy Doyon.

Betty Blayton, Roots (1969). © The Estate of Betty Blayton. Courtesy of Mnuchin Gallery, New York. Photography by Timothy Doyon.

“When Betty was coming up, it was what I call the fraught period of the emergence of Black artists,” said art historian Lowery Stokes Sims. “There were lots of conversations on: Did you do figurative art for the community? If you did abstract art you were accused of selling out to the mainstream. People were having these conversations back and forth.”

While Blayton continued to work on her painting until the day she died, she lost interest in seeking anointment by an art world that has little room for her as Black female artist.

“Betty’s situation was one that was pretty familiar to me in the ‘70s because there were a lot of women who in light of the lack of interest decided to create institutions that would address the needs of their fellow artists,” said Sims, “and create venues for exhibitions and programming for communities who didn’t have the resources or the reach to the mainstream museums.”

Blayton leveraged on a period in which mainstream art institutions—like MoMA, which partially funded the Children’s Art Carnival in Harlem—prioritized this type of outreach; not to bring the community into the museum, necessarily, but to create community outposts in neighborhoods in need of more resources.

In the end, Blayton corrected for the problems she herself faced in trying to find support as a young artist living in New York City. Maybe some disillusionment about the mainstream art world caused her to redefine the type of “famous Black artist” she ultimately wanted to be. Because she definitely became one. Not as she’d first envisioned, but her reputation as an institution builder reverberated through generations of artists, especially for people like Michael K. Williams, who, through working at the Children’s Art Carnival with Blayton, was able to feel “at home” in New York, he said.

Seeing the way she committed to the community was so “singularly gratifying,” he continued. Her influence on the community spanned far beyond her immediate one, helping establish institutions like the Studio Museum in Harlem—which is still, to this day, one of the mainstays of support for Black artists globally—and through other organizations springing up at the time, like Studio in a School, a youth-centered art school sponsored by Agnes Gund. Blayton’s work also lives on, Williams said, through “blueprints that the board of education in New York uses for their art education. Betty’s influence really is very pervasive.”

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